I’ve been meaning to write an article on the x100 series for a long time, but it’s a pretty daunting task considering how much has already been written about it. The Fujifilm Finepix x100 was the camera that started the whole X series lineup at a time when DSLRs completely dominated the market, and it’s certainly one of its most loved models to this day. If you look online you’ll find hundreds of reviews for all the different versions, so what can I possible say that hasn’t been said already?
Well, what I can share is my personal experience and why it quickly became the most important camera I’ve ever owned. Hopefully it might be helpful to others currently on the fence about getting a x100 model, just like I was a little over a year ago. This won’t be a technical review at all, so if you’re looking for tech specs, resolution charts and whatnot you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Unlike the early adopters of the X series, I joined the system at a time when there was already several interchangeable lens models available and a fair amount of lenses. My “gateway drug” was the X-M1 (great little camera!) and from there I kept upgrading to other models and changing lenses much more frequently than I would like to admit. That in itself was a problem because I was focusing more on gear than I was on taking photos, but there was an additional side-effect that in time started to annoy me: I would either carry too much gear that got very little use, or didn’t bother carrying a camera at all because I didn’t want to take the camera bag. As my desire to capture more of my everyday life increased, so did the need to have a smaller pocketable camera that I could take everywhere without much hassle.
Enter the Fujifilm x100T: in December of 2017 I finally caved in and got myself a used model just to see what all the fuss was about. I must admit at first I was a little skeptical of using one single focal lenght, especially the 35mm full-frame equivalent because I always considered myself more of a 50mm kinda guy… but boy, was I wrong! Pretty much immediately the x100T became my main camera, while the others were left at home gathering dust. The fact that I could just throw it in a jacket pocket and carry it around everywhere made all the difference in the world and it was probably the main reason why in 2018 I shot much more than in previous years.
Some of my first images with the x100t, taken during a dog walk in a foggy morning
The 35mm FF equivalent also grew on me quite fast, it’s perfect for shooting indoors or shooting people on the street and still include some context. I’m so used to it by now that I’m finally able to visualize what will be in the frame without looking at the viewfinder, which has proven to be a great asset for street photography. I use this technique all the time for shooting from the hip, most of the people photos you’ll find at the end of this article were taken this way.
Inevitably, I ended up upgrading to the x100F mostly for the improved high ISO performance, focus joystick and the Acros simulation, so that I could use my favorite black and white recipe. The x100T was amazing but Fuji really hit it out of the park with the x100F – so much so that other than a flip screen and weather sealing, there’s not much else in terms of hardware upgrades that I would like to see in future versions (more on that later). Once you use the camera for a while it becomes clear that everything has been thoroughly thought out, tested and fine-tuned based on user feedback over the years. While I don’t want to get all technical, there are a few unique features that I absolutely love and I feel are worth mentioning:
This is one of the areas that has evolved the most since the original x100. I really appreciate that all the buttons have been moved over to the right side so that you can access them without taking your eye off the viewfinder (unless you’re left eye dominant, in which case it sucks). I love the ISO dial embedded in the shutter speed dial, I know a lot of people would’ve preferred a dedicated one like in the X-T series, but I think this is a good compromise between functionality and clean design. The focus joystick is also a great improvement compared to the previous method of changing the focus point using the arrow buttons. Overall, all the basic functions you need are easily accessible through physical buttons and dials which you can customize to your own liking, so there’s rarely the need to go into the menus.
When I first read about the x100 series, I didn’t think much of the leaf shutter because most of the reviews focused on the advantages for syncing with a flash at high speeds, which I rarely use. But what really blew me away when I first tried it was how quiet it is – I mean, this thing is dead silent, so much that initially I thought the camera wasn’t working! 😀 It’s like using the electronic shutter, minus the downsides. This, of course, is perfect for
stalkingcandid photography, allowing you to capture a shot unnoticed without disturbing the scene.
In-built ND Filter
Another feature that initially I didn’t pay much attention to, but I’m finding myself using it much more often these days. The ND filter allows for example to shoot wide open or with slow shutter speeds in broad daylight, which can create some interesting effects. It’s also very useful for my B&W simulation recipe, when I want to use high ISO in bright sunlight.
This was the biggest innovation of the X series and its main selling point when it launched. The hybrid viewfinder in the original x100 and X-Pro1 was a brilliant invention that gave you the choice of using a classic Optical Viewfinder or a modern Electronic Viewfinder. Not one to rest on its laurels, Fujifilm took it one step further on the x100T and added the possibility of overlaying a small EVF so that you can check exposure and focus accuracy while using the OVF – they call this the ERF (Electronic Rangefinder Mode). I have to be honest though: most people I know that own a X-pro or x100 rarely use the OVF because on this day and age it’s hard to give up the comfort of being able to preview the exact output of your image while shooting. I rarely use it myself, but there have been a few situations where the OVF really helped to get the image I wanted. One such scenario is when you find a background you like but need to wait for the right subject to enter the frame: thanks to the wider field of view of the OVF you can see the subject coming before actually entering the frame lines, so that you’re ready to press the shutter at the right time.
An often overlooked feature that enables you to change the focal length to a 50mm or 75mm FF equivalent. It’s almost the same as cropping the original image, but the camera applies some clever upscaling algorithm to create a 24Mp jpg, making it look less like a crop. I rarely use the 75mm option because the image degradation is noticeable, but the 50mm is pretty good and I do use it occasionally when I want to get in closer to the action. Unfortunately, it only works when shooting in jpg only mode.
A combination of two features mentioned above: the ND filter made it possible to shoot at 1/30th of a second in broad daylight, while the OVF allowed me to see the subjects entering the frame in advance, so that I could push the shutter at the right moment.
All of these features combined with the small form factor of the camera add to its overall stealthiness, making it the perfect companion for street photography. For all the technology it incorporates, everything is so simple and intuitive that you don’t need to think about it and can just focus on what’s happening around you. Also, the fact that it looks like an ordinary point-and-shoot makes it much less intimidating to people, compared to a traditional DSLR with a big lens. For these very same reasons, the x100f also excels in documenting your everyday life, which is really how I use it the most. I rarely leave home without it and even at home it’s always nearby, ready to capture any special moment.
Don’t get me wrong though, this is an extremely versatile camera that can be used for many different genres. I’ve seen Pro photographers using it for portraits, landscapes, concerts, documentary, you name it! Some of my favorite Fujifilm X-Photographers have created amazing bodies of work almost exclusively with the x100 series, like Valérie Jardin, Olaf Sztaba and Ian MacDonald just to name a few. Personally, it’s been the only digital camera I’ve taken with me on vacations because I know it can handle everything I throw at it. For those who feel the 35mm field of view is too limiting, there’s always the option of adding the TCL teleconverter to get a 50mm equivalent or the WCL for a 28mm equivalent.
Ultimately, I think the biggest accomplishment of the x100 series is that it brings the fun back into photography. Everything is so well thought out that it’s an absolute joy to use, you just want to pick it up, go out and shoot more. I’ve read countless stories of pro-photographers who were in a rut and didn’t photograph outside of their work anymore, and the x100 series inspired them to reconnect to photography on a personal level, making images for themselves again. While I agree that gear is secondary to our vision, sometimes it can be just the thing you need to get your creative juices flowing!
Of course, nothing is absolutely perfect and no matter how much we have, we always want just a little bit more, right? In this case, there are still a few areas where I feel some improvements can be made, especially in the software side of things. I’ll end this article with my wishlist for future upgrades, in the vague hope that some Fujifilm executive might stumble onto this and pass it on to the product development (hey, a man can dream)! If you have any suggestions of your own, please let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear them.
- Flip screen: to me this is a no-brainer and I really can’t understand the argument of those who say it will ruin its rangefinder philosophy… I mean, if you don’t want it just don’t use it, keep it closed and it will look just the same! For those of us who like shooting from the hip or from awkward angles, it would be godsent.
- Weather sealing: not that I shoot in the rain all that much, but it would still be nice to have that option and not worry about the safety of the gear.
- Better grain effect: I hate squeaky-clean images so I often shoot in high-iso’s or add some grain in post. Unfortunately, the in-camera grain effect isn’t very believable, especially compared to what you can currently get with post-processing software like Lightroom, Exposure or Capture One. I’d love to see a more randomized grain effect and also and additional strength option in the settings (weak, medium and strong).
- Split toning: This would be a blessing for those who like to experiment with the film simulation settings to get a specific film look. The White Balance shift is crucial to this process, but it will affect the whole image which can be a bit limiting. If instead we could set the WB shift separately for the highlights and shadows, it would open a whole new world of possibilities for getting closer to certain classic film looks.
- Q menu on the LCD: Whenever possible I prefer to shoot with the LCD off and the EVF set to eye sensor to save battery. The only problem with this method is that if I need to change any setting in the Q menu in-between shots, I’m forced to bring the camera up to my eye to change them, which isn’t very practical. It would be really nice if there was an option to always display the Q menu on the LCD regardless of what View mode you’re in.
- Digital converter in Raw mode: Like I mentioned before, I sometimes use the 50mm digital teleconverter but in order to do so I first have to switch the image quality to “Fine” instead of “Fine + Raw”. Not only is it cumbersome, but also greatly limits the post-processing possibilities since you’re left with the jpg only. I know the camera can’t apply it’s upscaling magic on the raw file but it should still be able to save the original uncropped raw along with the upscaled jpg.
Below are some of the moments I captured over the last year with the x100T and x100f in several different scenarios: